The 4R’s of Nutrient Stewardship & Beyond

In the world of soils, crops, and nutrient management we talk a lot about the 4R’s (   The basic principle boils down to using the right SOURCE, at the right RATE, at the right TIME, and in the right PLACE.   The science behind these 4 simple words is amazing and can be both simple and complex at the same time.   I can have all the resources in the world but if I don’t take into account these 4 things I will never maximize its effectiveness.   We could really nerd it up if we wanted to and frankly we probably should, however…..

The concept goes beyond agriculture and could be used in so many areas of life.   I have been doing some reflecting the last couple days looking at many areas and one of them is discipline.   Discipline, needed for correction type, is not enjoyable.   I have given and received it at times in my life and it is just not fun.   As a dad I have brought the wrong everything and the outcome was in no way the change in behavior I was hoping to receive.   For example, I used to give cause and affect educational speeches that included “if you don’t pick up your bowl (the little responsibility items) you will end up in jail”; instead of a good conversation and corrective course it would end in laughter or glossed over eyeballs.   (I am trying to improve)

My bottom line thought is this – as I Christ-follower I believe He is in charge and through the Bible and the Holy Spirit He is going to make me into what He desires – I may not like it when it happens but He will always us the right SOURCE, TIME, RATE, and PLACE to discipline unlike me.

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Ode to the Brillant

There are times in life when you stumble across (or the divine puts in front of you) those that inspire you.  I have had several people in my life fill this description but one lately stands out.  I can’t put his name in the blog because frankly the powers of big brother in his country track his name and progress, however PhD Candidate JK (and his wife RK) are worthy of my support.   Here is why: (just some of the reasons)

He has followed his vision and dreams without compromise.  This vision and dream have kept him below the poverty line for years yet his family lives contentment and peace regardless of the circumstance.

He is a brilliant scientist who despite my own PhD can without question research me under the table.  His ability to fully take the academic and pick it a part to achieve the perfect expression of the scientific method is amazing.   His research in soil microbiological genetics WILL revolutionize agronomics as we know them.  He really could win the Wood Food Prize in the future.

His faith is steadfast – that is all I can say about that.

He is a generous giver when he has nothing to give.   JK will give you the shirt off his back even if he only has 1 shirt.

It was a privilege to take classes with,  study along side, and get to know his great family.  This little post in a twist of internet fate gets right to his email box despite the blocking of WordPress by the country so this is purely a public encouragement to him and his family.

Keep going my friend we are continually thinking about you.  Your journey is worth it.

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What’s a hectare?

One of the common questions we get comes when dealing with measurements in agriculture.  The first is what is the difference between an acre and a hectare, whats a hectare, why us it, can I convert etc. The first difference is acres are used in the Imperial (American System) which takes up 43,560 square feet (13277 square meters) while a hectare is part of the metric system.  A hectare is not part of the International System of Units (SI) but is the scientific standard for area.  A hectare is 10,000 square meters (107,639 sq ft) which is also the size of the international rugby field.  (a little fact I got from Google)

What if I want to convert from acres to hectares?  When going from acres to hectares divide your acres by 2.471 example: 5 ac / 2.471 = 2.023 ha

OR you can go the other way and convert ha to ac by multiplying your ac by 2.471 example: 2.023 ha X 2.471 = 5 ac

How can I determine how much my garden, land, pot or crate is in acres?

1) find the your area in square feet by using the formal Length X Height

2) Then DIVIDE that by 43,560 sq ft (1 acre) – then from there you can convert to hectares.

Example 25×25 = 635 sq ft / 43560 = 0.o143 acres or / 2.471 = 0.0058 hectares.

Hope that helps – Dr. Dirt aka the Poopsmith

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The Voice Results are in and Anne Hathaway has a malfunction….

The Voice results are in from the TV show and according to Google over 100,000 people have searched for the results since last night and even more have tried to understand why Anne Hathaway was foolish, yet there has not been enough searches for Brazil finds Mad Cow, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), to cause a trend in Google.   It is true that on December 7, 2012 Brazil, our main competitor for beef exports, announced it had a cow test positive for BSE.  This cow went down 2 years ago and they just now received the final test results.  (this is another issue but it seems odd that this is barely hitting media outlets but if it was in the US the world would be outraged)    This particular case is unique and complex with both a positive and negative test, it was an older cow that could have died from other old age causes, and the lab was backed logged in getting results to the appropriate authorities.   The US cattlemen are pushing for Brazil to be listed as a BSE country like the US (, Japan cancelled Brazilian imports and Russia is probably not going to, while the US remains silent, for the most part.  In my opinion we are still safe but the two year lag was unnecessary…now here is the bait and switch…

Global Food Security is a complex issue that goes beyond tonight’s dinner table.  The weather, markets, a random pest, the work force, politics, access, education, extension networks and countless other issues outside of whether you are in a developed or developing nation converge to key play roles.    The issue is complex and needs to be looked at from all sides with all players.  Having BSE in an exporter nation like Brazil or having 30 years of rice imports into Haiti from outside groups are just examples of larger topics playing a factor in food security.  The grand challenges of food security keeps me pacing my office because I want to be part of the solution not part of the problem.

As the person who directs the agricultural division at Convoy of Hope I am always trying to find ways to communicate the issues to the people around me. Kindly, before you see who won the Voice or whether or not the Seahawks won the Superbowl take a minute and answer this question for me.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear food security?

Thanks The Poopsmith aka Dr. Dirt

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The Field Season

I loved this time of year as a kid.  I would spend time driving around the orchard on the Honda Trail 90, watch the Peterson’s harvest Christmas trees next-door and ship them to the Midwest, work at the mink ranch during pelting season and help Bomps close up the tractor.    As the cold damp rainy weather set in until 4th of July it was time to make account for the field season.  The ups and downs, the blessings, lessons learned, winterize the equipment, and determine what to do for the next field season if blessed to have another one.

I have come to think of life in the terms of a field or growing season.  In American agriculture and climate we are always trying to lengthen the season but in the end we generally get just one.  This past growing season has been filled with blessings, challenges, and adventure, however it is the next growing seasons ahead that have me striving forward.  Why?

The general consensus is that roughly 870 million people in the world are still chronically undernourished and 16 million of those are from developed countries (FAO, 2012 (1)).  The world population is primed for an increase of 9.1 billion by 2050, which will demand a 60% increase in agricultural production. This increase has to also take into account the good soil that remains, sustainability, economic viability, yield increases on existing land, and the ongoing debates over the use of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organism) and total effect climate change on farmable lands (FAO, 2012 (2)).

As we roll into 2013 I am reminded that 2050 is just 37 field seasons away.  If seasons remain reasonably stable when the first tractor breaks ground in 2050 I will only be 76.    As I look to the next growing season as a person who deals with farmers and some of the 870 million chronically undernourished daily I am reminded of the lesson I learned growing up – every growing season is different and growing season matters.

Therefore, if I going to impact 2050, whether I am the husband, dad, scientist, farmer, preacher, or runner THIS next field season must be better than last because the last season is in the field notes and almost closed.

Preparing the Soil for Harvest

FAO (1) The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012.  The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 is published jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme. Released October 8, 2012.

FAO(2) World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050: The 2012 Revision.  ESA E Working Paper No. 12-03.   Released June 2012.   

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A Gear Review: The Garmin 610 GPS Watch

A Review: The Garmin 610Garmin Forerunner 610 - Dick's Sporting Goods

I have logged a few miles over the years and currently working on marathon 11 and during the runs there has been a Garmin 205 on my wrist.   This unit lasted almost 7 years before finally biting the dust.  There was a moment of silence followed by great trepidation over what would replace my faithful companion.  The Garmin brand had gained my trust, as 7 years of Western Washington running without fail is an accomplishment, but I wondered what else what out there.   I read reviews, checked pricing, and evaluated my true needs then I settled on the Garmin 610 a couple months ago.  I have never once regretted my choice.

Since using the Garmin 610 I have logged runs in Haiti, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Missouri, South Dakota, and Florida without system failure, lost satellites, usability frustration on the run, or sync issues with the computer.  If that is the only piece your read then I recommend this powerful little computer on the run.    However here are a couple reasons why I like this unit.

1)   It picks up and keeps satellites seamlessly and quickly.  I used to plan extra time on the workout to make sure the acquisition was complete before starting.  The new technology in the watch makes acquisition quick under almost any condition.

2)   It keeps locked to the satellites.  In the past I could run in the woods of Washington and lose reception creating frustration and inaccurate data.  I have run the same courses with this new watch and I have yet to lose acquisition.

3)   Seamless syncing with the computer and Garmin Connect is awesome.  The ANT wireless technology literally picks up the watch signal as I walk into the front door of the house and downloads all the data.   The ability to be wire free for download makes life simple.  I can go through my regular post run routine and the computing if done for me.   Then on my schedule I connect to Garmin Connect and all the data this nerd wants is available.   The Garmin Connect website has really advanced over the years.

4)   It is lite weight and resembles a normal watch.  This might not seem like a great benefit but after 7 years of the 205 brick it was nice to wear it in the office after a bike commute.

5)   It stood up in the rain!  In Missouri we were in the middle of a drought making me resistant to writing a review until I had a good rain run.  The opportunity came a couple weeks ago as Hurricane Isaac blew through Springfield for me to test the resolve of the unit.  I completed a nice 7 mile run in a down pour without any signs of water damage which is important to this Washington native.   (Note: It should not have because it is waterproof)

The Garmin 610 is the real deal.  Happy Running!


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The Power of Partnership

When someone goes into a community with the intention of “helping the poor” without taking the time to build relationships it can do more harm then good in the long term.  The storm the beaches and impose our worldview approach has proved itself as erroneous thinking time and time again globally.   

As I started trips into Haiti and working closely with a co-op of local rice farmers it became evident this was a partnership worth investing but at the correct time and place.  Early on in the endeavor a man traveling with us declared these farmers need a tractor, to direct seed their rice from a plane, and understand their small fields will produce no real economic benefit.  When I actually listening to the federation leadership and fi their needs with the cultural realities of Haiti no one really cared about direct seeding and yes, one field producing more rice might not affect the Haitian economy at large it would benefit that individual family.  As one family saw the example more would follow their lead and ultimately the enhancement of this community food system could impact generations. 

Skipping ahead almost a year we have been purchasing this federations rice while enhancing our friendships.  We have been building trust, creating market by buying locally grow rice, and finding value added revenue for the rice waste products a transformation has started to take place.  As the yield has increased so has the income of the farmers and in direct response ownership in the process has lead to the federation now paying for the school teachers – NOT A NGO.  They are cleaning their irrigation canals – NOT A NGO.  They entered into a cooperative loan to purchase an upgraded milling system – NOT A NGO.  As they have started this change it was time to increase our partnership and take them to a new level of production.   (Granted still small scale by American standards) But when you partner with a group of people who have ask, not for a handout but a little push, the results are amazing.  


Two weeks ago we partnered with the federation by holding the note on a nice 51 horsepower Kubota tractor with a rotovator attachment.  When I say hold the note I truly mean these farmers who once depended on the handouts from NGO’s for almost everything came up with the terms of 8% interest, $1000 dollars a month and over a 36 month period.  We gave them the grace of 3 months (next harvest) for first payment and a reduction of 8% interest compared to the normal Haitian rate.  There is nothing like being approached to partner when we are both putting skin in the game.

In a half a day of working the tractor they prepared the same amount of land it would take 10 farmers 1 week to complete – that is the power of partnership. 



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